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Case: When officers cross the line

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was a case of mistaken identity.

Ignacio Martinez Sr. and his wife, Charlotte, were stopped by Raton police officers who were looking for their adult son.

Martinez, who was 78 years old at the time, was driving his son’s car when they went to deliver a Christmas package to their grandson.

The officers pulled up behind the car in the grandson’s driveway and asked the elderly and disabled Martinez to get out of the vehicle.

He initially objected, telling officers he was there to deliver a Christmas gift.

Martinez got out of the car with some difficulty and was forcibly handcuffed by two officers, breaking Martinez’s finger in the process, according to court records.

Another officer arrived and told the officers on the scene that the elderly Martinez was not the man they were looking for.

Officers then told Martinez he was not under arrest but was being detained while they figured out the situation and that he was going to be patted down for weapons.

Martinez informed the officer he had a colostomy bag. The officer conducted the pat-down anyway, perforating the colostomy bag causing blood and fecal matter to leak onto his clothes.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson ruled the officers were within their rights to stop Martinez’s car and that requiring him to exit the vehicle were actions protected by qualified immunity. But he also ruled the officers were not protected by qualified immunity once they learned from their fellow officer that Martinez was not the man they were looking for.

At that point, Johnson ruled, Martinez should have been released from the handcuffs and that there was no justification for the pat-down or to search Martinez for weapons.

The officers appealed the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where Johnson’s ruling was affirmed.

It took more than 14 months from the time the city of Raton filed the motion to dismiss the case based on qualified immunity until the appeals court upheld Johnson’s ruling.

Raton quickly settled the case after the ruling.

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